Amicus Curiae

Bullying on social media: The Philippines’ current legal platform

Cyndy P. dela Cruz

February 01, 2017

The pen is mightier than the sword or so the adage goes.

When this was once said, it was to highlight the power of thought and idea over brute force and violence as a way to effect change.

Today, the pen can very well be a “tap” of a button, as social media has reinvented our way of life anew -- for good or for bad. Regardless of political affiliation or social philosophy, it is undeniable how the power of social media has shaped recent events.



In the Philippines, many attribute President Duterte’s electoral victory to a strong social media presence and awareness from supporters and detractors alike. Similarly, in the United States, President Trump’s astounding victory may not have been predictable on the basis on old measures of popularity, but perhaps to a more subtle, even subliminal influence, perhaps attributable to social media as well.

Unfortunately, when people log into their social media accounts, some tend to shed normal sensibilities or even basic civility. This is the same phenomenon that perhaps gives rise to the anomaly of Philippine vehicular traffic, where the polite and non-confrontational is shed for disrespectful and sometimes barbaric behavior leading to the Gordian knot that is Philippine traffic.

Part of this is the cloak of perceived anonymity that social media brings. We therefore sometimes see posts or commentaries meant to embarrass competence and intelligence, gender, or just plain rumor-mongering.

However, even when done behind the cloak of a social media platform may have legal implications under our present laws.

This law finds applicability in school-related bullying incidents which cover those uttered on social media platforms. “Bullying” under this law refers to any severe, or repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at another student that has the effect of actually causing or placing the latter in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to his property; creating a hostile environment at school; infringing on the rights of another student at school; or materially or substantially disrupting the education process. (Sec. 2, RA 10627) When done through the use of the Internet, the law categorizes the same as “cyber-bullying.” (Sec. 2-D, RA 10627) This covers social bullying aiming to belittle another individual or group or gender-based bullying which humiliates another on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. (Sec. 3, B-1, RA 10627, Implementing Rules). However, this law only addresses student-student bullying. Hence, a teacher who belittles a student in Facebook or any other social media account, on account of grades or class performance, social standing or gender may not be held liable under this law.

One who publicly or maliciously imputes to another a crime, vice, defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or blacken the memory of one who is dead may be liable for libel under the Revised Penal Code. (Art. 353, RPC) These acts, when done in social media, will be punished more severely in addition to the civil action for damages which may be brought by the offended party. (Sec. 4 (c-4), RA 10175)

Cyberlibel holds liable only the original author of the post (Sec. 5 (3), Implementing Rules of RA 10175) hence, if you are one of those who are fond of liking or reacting to a post of this character, cyberlibel is not the crime for you.

Slander may also be applicable to one who, in heat of anger, utters statements that are highly defamatory in character. (Art. 358, RPC)

Intriguing Against Honor may also find applicability when the principal purpose is to blemish the honor or reputation of a person. (Art. 364, RPC) However, the requirement is that the post be directed to a specific person. Hence, a blind item is not as actionable as a named-post in social media.

One who is aggrieved by a defamatory post in social media may nonetheless find refuge in the provisions of the Civil Code on Damages. (Art. 2176, Civil Code) One who posts in social media, causing damage to the reputation of another may be liable to the subject for damages and this can be a valid cause of action under the law. Such post must tend to pry to the privacy and peace of mind of another, meddle or disturb the private life or family relations of another, intrigue to cause another to be alienated from his friends or vex or humiliate another on account of his religious beliefs, lowly station in life, place of birth, physical defect or other personal condition. (Art. 26, Civil Code)

The recent popular posts in Facebook featuring over-weight people who are victims of body-shaming may rely on the Civil Code for an action for damages.

An employee who spreads rumors or intrigues against a coworker or his superior or vice versa, or who does any act similar to cyberlibel, slander, intriguing against honor or even prying into the privacy of another may be a just cause for his termination if embodied in the company policy in addition to all other causes of action available to him under the laws mentioned. (Sec. 5.2 (g), D.O 147-15)

However, all the laws mentioned will only be a valid cause of action to one who is the subject of the post and who is aware of the post directed to him. Those who simply react and call foul because a post imputes to another an act which tarnishes one’s reputation without them being the subject of the same has no remedy under any of our present laws.

Social media is a powerful tool. It is always best to set a limit on which issues to react to or which people direct a post to.

While freedom of speech is well-enshrined in our Constitution, this right is not without any limitations.

In the end, it is always best to devote the stroke of our fingers and the clicks of our mouse to intellectual discourse rather than risk being held liable under our present laws. After all, the power of our minds should be mightier than any sword there is.